Anyone teaching in a 4×4 block system?

I am going up to Flagstaff (4 hour drive) tomorrow with some other Pueblo teachers to visit 3 schools that use a 4×4 block system. That means:
1st semester — 4 classes, 90 minutes each
2nd semester — 4 classes, 90 minutes each

such that one gets an entire year class in one semester. Immediate objections have popped up:

1. What about AP classes which only make sense (because of the actual looming test) year-round? Even if saying “well, they need the extra time anyway” what about honors students who want to take more than one?

2. What happens to electives that only make sense year-round? Will students go insane if they’re in band 90 minutes a day for the entire year?

3. What happens when a student has a semester break from math each year? Do they forget everything even worse than they already do?

4. What happens with absences? If a student misses 3 days due to a simple flu, they’ve missed 6 days worth of curriculum. Technically (by our district rules) 5 days of absences would warrant a No Credit.

I’m obviously going to ask about these things in Flagstaff, but has anyone used (or is using) such a system and can address the problems above?

8 Responses

  1. No experience with this, but the high school I went to had a relatively sane system of blocking.

    Monday, Thursday and Friday – 8 periods, roughly one hour each
    Tuesday – Odd periods blocked
    Wednesday – Even periods blocked

    It was a magnet school – I’m surprised this never caught on elsewhere – I’ve seen some pretty bizarre blocking systems since.

  2. That’s not too far from our current system:

    Mon, Tue, Fri 1-7
    Wed 1-3 (+ prof. development time)
    Thu 4-7

  3. My son’s HS has almost this setup except that 2nd or 3rd block, students will usually have a “short block” elective for half the block, and the other half-block for lunch. Band and chorus use the short block, and go year-round.

    AP Calculus and AP Physics are co-taught and take up 1 long block each semester (so, both go all year).

    In some grades/levels, humanities (English and Social Studies) are likewise co-taught and last the whole year.

    AP Biology is a long block each semester. Other AP courses are offered first semester, with an optional (or sometimes not optional) short block 2nd semester.

    Sometimes the Juniors and Seniors in multiple AP classes end up with no lunch.

    I think it stinks for math and foreign languages. Remember that there can be a full YEAR between one course and the next if it is taken first semseter one year and then second semester the next.

    The school is finding that this isn’t working that well, and wants to move to some kind of hybrid blocking schedule, possibly similar to Maria’s HS. They are still studying options.

  4. Could you be more specific about what the problems are?

    The schools I observed were doing quite well with the system. I’ll post more about it when I get time.

  5. I honestly don’t know everything that has gone into the decision to try a different blocking schedule. Concerns that I’m aware of:

    – lack of continuity in math and foreign languages (can be a 12-month gap, not just 7 in our system)
    – for classes where knowledge has to “sink in” one 90 minute block is not equivalent to two 45 minute blocks with homework, or even just a night to sleep on it, in between
    – in some districts (not ours) teachers are told that they must spend the entire time teaching, not watching students work on problems, which exacerbates the problem above

    Also in our district, since it’s really 3.5 x 3.5 that means you can only fit 6 “full” classes per year, and since some AP classes take 2 of those long blocks up, it makes fitting things in very difficult for honors/AP students. (Some small number of “real” classes are offered in a 2-short-block configuration, to help make things more flexible.) It’s alarmingly common for honors/AP students to have no lunch period at least one of the semesters.

    One maybe-not-obvious benefit of the block scheduling is that it can dramatically reduce textbook costs, as 2 sections of a course can use the same set of textbooks, if they are offered in alternate semesters.

    Another benefit of semester scheduling is that it allows students to take 2 consecutive courses (in math or foreign language, for example) in the same year. This allows students who might not have had algebra in 8th grade to get on a track for AP Calc, for example. Of course that’s not easy given the scheduling difficulties mentioned above.

  6. Thank you, that’s very helpful! I’ll pass your notes along to everyone deciding on this as well.

  7. Both of the high schools I attended were 4×4 block. One high school was similar to what mathmom described. We split 2nd block to be a more traditional period–band, chorus, journalism would meet then. It also allowed AP classes to be 1.5 blocks. (One semester block, one semester half block. AP English was opposite AP Calc/Stats for the seniors who took both, otherwise you could take an elective for the second half.)

    Also seconding mathmom’s concern when you have a full year between consecutive courses. Screwed me over with language when French II wouldn’t fit in my schedule sophomore year. I went 24 months between French 1 and 2.

  8. For absences, our kids are allowed 11 absences in a semester class before they lose credit. And, if an absence is medical, it isn’t counted if a doctor’s note is supplied. Religious absences are also exempt from this count. I don’t know how they handle tardies.

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